Non-syntactic Processing Explains Cortical Entrainment During Speech Perception


There is considerable debate on the precise role of hierarchical syntactic structure during the comprehension of sentences, with some arguing that a full hierarchical analysis is required for comprehension (e.g., Ding, Melloni, Tian, & Poeppel, 2017) and others claiming that non-hierarchical processing is more common (e.g., Frank, Bod, & Christiansen, 2012). Ding, Melloni, Zhang, Tian, and Poeppel (2016) recently presented evidence that cortical entrainment during speech perception reflects the neural tracking of hierarchical syntactic structure of simple sentences, which would support the view that hierarchical processing is unavoidable. However, we show that the same entrainment effects appear in a computational model that does not incorporate syntax or any other linguistic knowledge or process beyond the word level. Hence, the cortical entrainment results do not need to be indicative of syntactic processing.

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